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The Council of Europe may send the shock troops in

Posted by Helen Monday, May 02, 2005

Maybe they have been reading this blog. First the OSCE made some comments about sending a delegation or two made up of representatives of newly democratic countries to Britain, to see how it is done. Postal votes? Hmm. What a good idea. Beats the vote early, vote often instructions.

That was going to be an exercise in studying democracy. But, it seems, that there might be something more serious coming from the Council of Europe, described by the Scotland on Sunday as the organization

“which oversees democracy and human rights across the continent”.
I wouldn’t put it quite as strongly as that. The CoE’s record on the Communist and post-Communist states is patchy; some of its members, acquired in haste, leave a good deal to be desired as democracies; and it has failed rather spectacularly in ensuring that the European Union became a democracy.

For all of that, the Council of Europe does have something of a record in monitoring elections and producing reasonably useful reports.

It seems that there is some discussion about sending in lawyers to investigate the British electoral system as it has evolved under the present Labour government and, possibly, to recommend improvements.

In the opinion of Murdo Macleod, the newspaper’s correspondent:

“The news is a major embarrassment for the UK, which is a founder member of the CoE, because the organisation usually investigates the voting systems of countries with little history of democracy, such as the former Eastern Bloc nations.

The move comes amid growing evidence of widespread misuse of the postal ballot system and the setting up of a new police hotline dedicated to reporting incidents of voting fraud.”
If he were not a journalist he might ponder on the fact that news should be a major embarrassment for the UK, not because of its role in the founding of the Council of Europe but because until recently this country was considered to be the mother or parliamentary democracy.

The Council of Europe has been alerted by various British MPs, who are also delegates to its Parliamentary Assembly.
“One of them, the Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon, Malcolm Bruce, has raised the issue with Eric Jurgens, who is the chairman of the CoE’s Council for Democratic Elections and a veteran of election monitoring. Although any investigation will still have to be approved by the Council which he chairs, the fact that Jurgens believes there is a reason to investigate is almost certain to ensure a probe will go ahead.”
The new-fangled Department for Constitutional Affairs maintains that it has not been approached by the Council of Europe.

It is interesting that it should be a Liberal Democrat MP to raise the issue. News reaches us that at least one Liberal Democrat MEP has been accused of certain malpractices.

According to former MEP for Itchen, Test and Avon, Edward Kellett-Brown, Christopher Huhne, the well-known advocate of further integration has been using his European Parliament expenses to fund the printing of an election leaflet in Eastleigh. This is, of course, against all the rules of the European Parliament (and goodness knows those are lax enough). My own guess is that there will be many more complaints of this kind in the weeks to come.

The Electoral Commission has also come out of its long-lasting stupor to contact one of the largest unions, the GMB, to ask it for some explanation of the thousands of pounds it has spent on advertisements in national newspapers that condemn Tory policies. There are strict electoral rules about spending by third parties.

While we are on the subject, has anyone else noticed the huge Unison posters that have been appearing on street corners with messages that also condemn Tory policies? One hopes the Electoral Commission has noticed them.

We may note in parenthesis that the unions clearly do not believe the polls. Otherwise, why would they suddenly rush into the electoral fray, desperately attacking the Opposition, when the Government is, allegedly, about to be returned with another huge majority?

It has been noted before that Tony Blair is not content to be known as the only Labour leader to have led the party to two, probably three victories but wants to go down in history as a statesman of some importance. At the moment it looks like he will be known as the Prime Minister who reintroduced widespread corruption and electoral fraud into this country, for the first time since the mid-nineteenth century.